In Chapter 10 of the book of Luke, Jesus is approached by a scribe who asks how to get eternal life. Jesus asked the man (who’s a lawyer, by the way) what the law said and the guy replied that one should love God with all your, heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. When he finished, Jesus told him he was correct, to do that and he’d live. Yes, this is the intro to the parable of the Good Samaritan but I want to talk about something that generally gets overlooked in this passage. And, that’s the “love yourself” bit.
My brother is spending the week with me while he attends a class at UNC-CH for his job, mostly because he’s a notorious tightwad and hotel rooms were like $90 a night. Well, he does work for the state and his travel budget is maxed out right now; but my version is funnier and that’s what I’m going with. Tonight, as usual, our conversation turned theological in nature and I said that the essence of my faith was “Love God and love your neighbor. Everything else is bullshit”. As we discussed that tidbit, he said he’d read something that the writer Doris Betts said on the subject. According to Betts, we don’t love our neighbor because we don’t love ourselves. She also said that we do, however, cut ourselves a great deal of slack and a good way to start loving our neighbor was cut them at least as much slack as we cut ourselves.
He’d mentioned something like this once before but, for some reason, I blew right past it. Maybe I wasn’t ready to hear it back then, who knows? Tonight, though…, tonight it stuck. I’ve heard so many sermons and lessons on this particular piece of scripture I’ve lost count. Yet, not one of them spent time on loving yourself beyond reading it. You’d think that learning to love oneself is something the church would be interested in teaching, because most people aren’t able to do that. If we did, we wouldn’t go about destroying our lives and the lives of those around us with such abandon. If we did, we wouldn’t try to fill the hole in our hearts with more and more stuff instead of finding out what it’s really about. If we truly loved ourselves, we wouldn’t be so stingy with our time, our money or anything else we have. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of self-love we’re already good at, the one that causes us to push to the front of the line and damn anyone who gets in our way. I mean the kind that comes from knowing that we’re children of a loving God and don’t have worry about trivialities like money or security; he’s got that under control. Because, if we don’t have that love, if we don’t know it looks like and practice it on ourselves, how are we going to love anyone else?